Eating disorders and emotional and physical well-being: Associations between student self-reports of eating disorders and quality of life as measured by the SF-36

Helen Doll, Sophie E. Petersen, Sarah L. Stewart-Brown

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Objective: To assess health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in subjects with eating disorders in terms of eating disorder type and in relation to self-reports of longstanding illness, depression and self-harming behaviours. Method: Data on eating disorder history, SF-36 health status, longstanding illness, and self-reported frequencies of depression, self-harming behaviour, and suicidal thoughts or acts were collected during 1996 as part of a UK postal survey of students’ health. Completed questionnaires were returned by 1439 of 3750 students (response rate 42%). Results: Eighty-three respondents (5.8%; 8.9% of females) reported a probable eating disorder history: 54 (3.8%) bulimia nervosa, 22 (1.6%) binge eating disorder, and 7 (0.5%) anorexia nervosa. Eating disorder subjects reported more impairment in SF-36 emotional than physical well-being, with significantly lower mental (p<0.001) but not physical (p=0.21) component summary scores. This was most evident in bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder subjects. Anorexia nervosa subjects reported fewer SF-36 emotional limitations although they were significantly more likely to report depression, self-harming behaviour, and suicidal ideation. Discussion: An eating disorder history is accompanied by HRQoL impairment primarily in emotional well-being. Anorexia nervosa subjects perceive fewer limitations than subjects with other eating disorders. While this is consistent with previous reports of better SF-36 emotional well-being in those with restrictive eating behaviours, it may also suggest that the SF-36 is insensitive to emotional distress in anorexia nervosa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)705-717
Number of pages13
JournalQuality of Life Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2005

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